Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Lookout Games; 2-3 players, ages 12 and up, 60-90 minutes; about $50)


Ancient Rome in general and the quest to become ruler of the Roman Empire in particular, have long been popular themes for games. In Das Ende des Triumvirats, designed by Johannes Ackva and Max Gabrian, that theme is tackled once again with some unique and challenging twists.

Das Ende des Triumvirats comes bookshelf boxed with a mounted mapboard, 60 brown cubes (representing Roman legions), 6 Civil Servant tiles, 11 yellow Citizen cylinders, a “battle bag” and for each player, a set (in red, blue and black) of cubes, governors (large cylinders) and a character plank. (Although the game has little foreign text on the components, an English language version of the game from Z-Man games is scheduled to be released in June or July for about $50.)dasendebox

The board depicts the Mediterranean area divided into provinces. In one corner of the board, you’ll find the political arena, divided into three areas, one per player, where the voters are placed. Each player starts with two in his area and the other five in the undecided section. In another corner is the competence track where players chart their ability in political and military matters and, finally, a track for charting turns. But the main focus is on the provinces.

When the game begins, each player controls five provinces. Provinces come in three varieties: political, military and competency. At the start, each province holds 2 legions which are at the disposal of the player controlling the area. The player, himself, is represented by a small square “plank”. His governors, one for each province under his control, begin either in or out of the square in the province that shows what the province produces. Production is either two legions (for a military province), two gold (for a political province) or one of each resource (for a competency province).

All players place two of their cubes on the first space on each of the two competency tracks and toss two more of their cubes into the black “battle bag”. Remaining pieces (cubes and governors) remain as reinforcements. Now, in turn order, starting with red, then blue, then black, the game begins.

All turns follow three phases:: supply, movement and actions.

First, the active player moves his governors. If IN the supply box, the governor steps out; if OUT, the governor steps in. Empty supply boxes produce resources which are immediately placed on the board. (If gold is produced in the province occupied by the player’s plank, the gold is immediately claimed and placed in that player’s reserve for future use.) If a Civil Servant is in the province, the governor is placed ON the servant counter and REMAINS there so that province will produce EVERY turn. Plus, players always receive from Rome two resources of their choice which may be placed in any area under their current control.

Players may move their planks and have up to four movement points to spend. Traversing each adjacent area cost 1 MP. You need to move your piece into a province to pick up gold there. The plank aspect of the player piece comes into play as players can transport legions (or Civil Servants) from province to province by simply picking up legions, placing them on the plank, and carrying them along. (If crossing a sea area WITHOUT legions, the cost of movement is 1 MP less.) Moving into a province controlled by an opposing player triggers a battle.dasendboard

Battle resolution is simple and straightforward. Depending upon how many legions are involved, cubes are drawn from the battle bag. The number of cubes drawn is equal to the LOWEST number of legions involved in the battle. But, in any case, no more than three cubes are drawn. For each cube drawn of the attacker’s color, one defending legion is eliminated. The cube is then returned to that player. Same thing for the defender with attacking forces eliminated and the cube returned to the defender’s cache. (If an enemy player’s plank is in the province, by definition his defense is strengthened, so the attacker loses two legions.) Now, remaining legions are eliminated, one by one, until only one side (or neither side) has legions left.

If attacking legions remain, the province has been conquered, the attacker’s governor replaces the defender’s governor and the defender gets compensation. (First loss enables the loser to add a cube to the battle bag. Lose a second time, and that player may INCREASE one of this competencies by 1 step.) If the defender’s character plank was in the province lost, the plank must “escape” and moves into one of his other provinces at no movement cost. However, he LOSES 1 step in EACH competence in which he was leading. (Leading is defined as being ahead of at least ONE of the other players.) If the defender wins (and he wins if NO legions remain after battle), the attacker must retreat.

Finally, the active player may do up to THREE actions – at a cost. The first action costs 1 gold, the second 2 and the third 3. Actions available depends on the location of that player’s character plank. If in a military province, a player may move his military competence UP 1 step and/or add two cubes to the battle bag. (If you’re not leading in military competence, adding cubes costs an additional 2 gold.) If in a political province, a player may move his political competence UP 1 step and/or move a citizen from undecided into his area OR from alignment with another player into undecided. (If you’re not leading in political competence, citizen movement costs an additional 2 gold.) If in a competency province, a player may move his political competence and/or his military competence UP 1 step.

When a player has finished his turn, any province with more than 6 legions present has the total reduced to 6 and the turn marker is moved ahead one space – until it hits the Elegio space. At that point, the round is over and an election held. The player with the most citizens in his area is elected Consul. As a reward, that player gets a new Civil Servant which may be placed in any of his controlled provinces. However, THREE of his citizens are immediately returned to the undecided area.

Play continues until one player reaches one of the three victory conditions: be elected Consul for the second time (or have six voters in his section after being elected once), control nine provinces, or reach step VII on both competency tracks.

Competency may be the oddest path to victory as you reap benefits by, paradoxically, showing signs of being incompetent, receiving an upgrade in competency if you lose two battles in a row. (An ironic reward but a necessary balancing mechanism in the game.) Competency tracks move inexorably to the the final level so a player who is striving to reach the end of the track may seem invincible. At that point, other players need to put the pressure on by attacking and defeating that player’s plank. It is the only way in the game to move BACK a player’s competency level.

Civil servants are a valuable resource, not to be minimized. Since they guarantee production on every turn (rather than every other turn), they are an enticing target for your opposition. The presence of a formidable military group in their area for protection is a good idea. But, to optimize their worth, civil servants need to be on the move so resources you need (be it gold or legions) can be harvested to the max.

Travel is easy (you can traverse the board from one end to the other in a single turn) making military defense hard to maintain. You cannot set up a defensive perimeter or build a line to protect weaker provinces. Everything is exposed, making a military strategy a bit harder than you may expect.

The draw bag modification to battle is an interesting touch. It can be a factor in a battle’s outcome but cannot repel an attack from an overwhelming force. Attacking a player who has fewer cubes in the bag is tempting as he is less likely to be able to score a defensive hit.

The game is vulnerable to a kingmaker problem, where a player cannot win but can determine which of the other two will, a problem inherent in many three player games. But this can be mitigated if players maintain an alert eye on what their competitors are doing and strive to maintain a balance between opposing forces at all costs. Balance is key and requires a different mindset from other territorial control games. Easier said than done – which is one of the challenges of the game. (Of course, this potential problem disappears when playing the two player version.)

Das Ende des Triumvirat takes on the challenge of empire with a unique perspective and is remarkably balanced. All three methods to victory – political election as consul, military domination of 9 provinces and competency in military and political spheres – are equally viable. It also stands apart from many games of the genre in that it is suitable for three players, an odd and unusual number. But it is the “tightrope mentality” of play that sets the game apart as players must strike the right balance to win – or fall! – – Herb Levy


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Spring 2006 GA Report Articles


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